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The Chelsea Theater Center was a not-for-profit theater founded in 1965 by Robert Kalfin, a graduate of the Yale School of Drama. It opened its doors in a church in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, then moved to the Brooklyn Academy of Musicmarker in 1968, where it was in residence for ten years.

Kalfin, the artistic producer, wanted to do the kind of work that had marked commercial off-Broadway in its prime but which, as a result of escalating production costs, could no longer realize a profit. By 1969, he was working with two new dynamic partners, also Yale graduates, Michael David, executive producer, and Burl Hash, production manger. They made it possible for him to realize the work he envisioned.

In the 1970s, the Chelsea produced plays that were unfamiliar to most spectators, even to many theater professionals. These included unusual European classics, new plays, and major works by well-known playwrights that were too complex and expensive for most non-profit theaters and too limited in audience appeal for most commercial producers.

For instance, the Chelsea staged the first uncut production of Jean Genet's seven-hour long The Screens and the first New York production of Peter Handke's Kaspar. The theater introduced New York audiences to the works of England's new generation of Royal Court playwrights, including Edward Bond, Christopher Hampton, David Storey, and Heathcote Williams. It unearthed works that had been lost to contemporary audiences, such as Kleist's The Prince of Homburg, Witkiewitz's surrealistic plays, The Crazy Locomotive and The Water Hen, John Gay's The Beggar's Opera and Polly, and Isaac Babel's Sunset.

With Kaddish, a play based on a screenplay inspired by a poem by Allen Ginsberg, the Chelsea transformed two other genres into a multi-media theatrical event. With Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, it metamorphized a short story by Isaac Singer into a powerful dramatic production. Then with Candide , it integrated staples of commercial musical theater with experimental environmental staging.

the Chelsea captured the imagination of critics who gushed over triumphs and excused failures as necessary steps to breaking new ground. Some performers left Broadway shows to appear on the Chelsea's stage in Brooklyn, and well-known artists such as Frank Langella, Meryl Streep, and Hal Prince were anxious to work at the Chelesea. Others who worked at the Chelsea early in their careers would become well known, including Glenn Close, Brent Spiner, and Des McAnuff.

As described in Davi Napoleon's chronicle, Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater, actors were extremely loyal to the Chelsea. The entire company of Strider, the Story of a Horse (based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy) petitioned Actor's Equity Association to permit it to rehearse without remuneration when the Chelsea had no money to continue production; in a rare move, the union agreed.

After the golden years in Brooklyn, funding sources for the non-profit theater decreased radically and the Chelsea could not adjust. The theater moved out of Brooklyn, attempting to find a wider audience in Manhattan for the work it wanted to do, but it eventually met with defeat. The theater folded in 1984.

References

    • Chelsea on the Edge: The Adventures of an American Theater, Napoleon, Davi. Iowa State University Press ISBN-0-8138-1713-7, 1991. A chronicle of the onstage productions and offstage troubles at the Chelsea Theater Center.
    • Contradictions: Notes on twenty-six years in the theatre (Hardcover), Prince, Harold. Dodd, Mead ISBN 0396070191, 1974 autobiography features a chapter on his production of Candide at the Chelsea Theater Center.
    • Bennetts, Leslie. "The Travels of Strider--Leningrad to Broadway. " in New York Times, 11 November, 1979. p.5
    • Feingold, Michael. "Death by Funding: RIP Chelsea" in The Village Voice, 21 January 1881, p.75
    • Hewes, Henry. "An Egoless Theater. " in Saturday Review, 29 July 1972, p.66
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Staging the Unexpected at the Chelsea Theater Center." in Showbill February 1980. Stories of adventurous productions the Chelsea moved from Off-Broadway to on.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "The Chelsea Theater Center: Bringing Film, Video, and Projections to the Stage" in Theatre Crafts" October 1977
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Whatever Became of Megan Terry?" in Soho Weekly News (New York), 1 July 1976 p 30. Interview with Terry about assorted work, including production of her play, "Hothouse," at the Chelsea.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Page. Stage, Film: Yentl Re-Viewed." in The Ann Arbor News (Michigan), 23 December 1983 Sec C, page 1
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Dawn Song: The Play Chelsea Didn't Produce." in Alternative Theater January-February 1976 p 4.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Salvation as an Erotic Experience." in Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 2 May 1977 p 31. Review of Robert Kalfin's production of "Happy End" at the Chelsea. The Chelsea later moved the show to Broadway.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Santa Anita '42 Players Remember the Camps." in Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 24 March 1975 p 17. Interviews with Sab Shimono and others who had first hand experiences similar to those of the characters they played in this production at the Chelsea.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "A Star is Born in Brooklyn: Tovah (Yentl) Feldshuh Goes to Stratford." in Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 16 August 1976. p 20. Details of conflict between Robert Kalfin and Tovah Feldshuh on interpretation of Chelsea production of Yentl.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Backstage at BAM: An Abundance of Activity" Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 29 November 1976. p 32. Chronicles typical day at Brooklyn Academy of Music with description of Chelsea rehearsal of "Lincoln".
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Backstage at Chelsea: The Real Life Drama Behind the Onstage Drama" Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 19 May 1975. p. 19. Describes rehearsal of Chelsea production of "Polly."
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Blossom Took a Long Road to Chelsea Stardom" in The Phoenix (Brooklyn, NY), 18 December 1975 p 17. Profile of Roberts Blossom with special attention to his work on "Ice Age."
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Boreum Hill Actress Foresakes Broadway for Pinteresque Soap." in The Phoenix (Brooklyn, NY), 4 December 1975 p 13. Profile of Dale Soules describing why she left "The Magic Show" to appear in "The Family" at the Chelsea.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Careers: A Part for you in the Theater" in Seventeen October 1977 p 54. Tips for teens on how to break into the backstage theater world, with comments from Michael David and Sherman Warner of the Chelsea Theater Center.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Chelsea Goes Loco, Gears Up for Speed Trip." Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 3 January 1977. Napoleon is a fly on the wall at Des McAnuff's rehearsal of "The Crazy Locomotive," with Glenn Close and other luminaries.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Chelsea Graduates to Brooklyn" Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 23 February 1976. p. 20. Brief history of Chelsea's first years at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Chelsea Resembles England's Royal Court" Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 8 March 1976. p 24
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Chelsea Theater Center: Highlights in the History of the Theater that Left New York." Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 11 April 1977. Photo essay.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Chelsea Thrives in Brooklyn, Triumphs Over Broadway" Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 8 March 19 May 1976. p. 24.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Chelsea's Michael David." in The Phoenix (Brooklyn, NY), 23January 1975 p 14. Profile of executive director Michael David.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Love Letters to Chelsea: Subscribers Rally to Help Theater Meet Deficit." in Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 9 February 1976 p 64.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Lynn Ann Leveridge of Chelsea's Yentl: Actress Discusses Judaism, Feminism, and Theater Life" in Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 29 December 1975 p 24.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Music's Not All That's Happening at BAM" in Courier Life Newspapers (Brooklyn, NY), 16 February 1976 p 19. Annotated photo spread of theater and dance events, recent productions at the Chelsea.
    • Napoleon, Davi. "Portrait of the Producer as a Runaway Scholar" in The Phoenix (Brooklyn, NY), 11 September 1975 p 17. Profile of productions director Burl Hash
    • Severo, Richard. "The Chelsea: Success Story in Brooklyn, of All Places." in New York Times 28 May 1974
    • Tallmer,Jerry. "A Theater Grows in Brooklyn." in New York Post 20 March 1973


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